Standard Guitar Tuning | How to Tune a Guitar for Beginners
If you’re a budding musician, you may be wondering how to tune your guitar and what you can do to keep it in tune. Even for more advanced players, there are some interesting things about tuning a guitar that you may not know.
If you want to know how to tune a guitar, standard guitar tuning, EADGBE, is the most common tuning. It’s good to learn what the standard tuning frequencies are in Hz, how to tune with and without a tuner and how to look after your guitar and it’s tuning pegs.
Keeping your guitar in tune is the first skill you should master, it’s not difficult so no need to worry! This tuning guide should cover everything you need to know.
How to tune a guitar
- Tune with a reference note
- Use a tuning fork
- Use another tuned instrument
- Tune one string at a time
- Re-tune your strings
- Use a guitar tuner
- Clip-on guitar tuner
- Guitar tuner pedal
- Tune with a guitar tuner app
- Tune with harmonics
Standard guitar tuning Hz
If you want to tune a guitar then you need to make sure that the string frequencies are spot on. Sound waves are made up of different frequencies, measured in Hertz (Hz). The standard tuning of a guitar consists of E2, A2, D3, G3, B3 & E4 from the lowest string to the top.
Across music, the A above middle C, A4 (440 HZ), is used as a standard reference pitch for tuning instruments. This means that the pitch of all other notes is determined around this frequency to create a widely accepted standard pitch.
The A string is two octaves below standard pitch so this makes its frequency on a guitar 110 Hz. Notice how the frequency has halved twice. An octave simply means that the difference between two sound wave frequencies is x2, so two octaves is x4.
Some guitar tuners will give you the Hz frequency of your notes so here are the frequencies to aim for across the strings:
E2 – 82.41 Hz
A2 – 110 Hz
D3 – 146.8 Hz
G3 – 196 Hz
B3 – 246.9 Hz
E4 – 329.6 Hz
Not all tuners will measure Hz and you might want to start early on training your ear with reference notes instead of relying on tuners if you are a beginner.
Standard guitar tuning key
In standard tuning, the guitar is not set to a musical ‘key’. The key or ‘tonic’ comes from the note that forms the key centre of the musical piece, for example, an ‘A’ or ‘G’ fretted on the 5th and 3rd frets of the ‘E’ string respectively.
Tuning keys are also sometimes referred to as tuning pegs, are located on the head of your guitar and are used to adjust the tuning. You need to make sure that these are properly looked after because otherwise, your guitar won’t tune.
Ensure that they are fastened on tightly to the head of your guitar. Be aware that there is a lot of tension on them from the strings. An old guitar will have put up with this for years so there is a good chance that they may need replacing to help it stay in tune.
Standard guitar tuning keys pegs need the strings to be wrapped around them at least once. If you’re replacing your tuning pegs, consider locking tuners. They won’t require nearly as much string winding and can help your guitar stay in tune better.
Locking tuners can lock with a mechanism on the peg, or at the nut of the guitar. If you have a Floyd Rose Bridge, locking nuts are recommended. If you do not, then locking tuning pegs are recommended.
Bass guitar standard tuning
The standard bass guitar tuning on 4 string bass is E1, A1, D2, G2. The bass guitar is tuned in 4ths just like the guitar, most bass guitars have 4 strings but you will find some extended range variations with 5 strings or even 6.
Always check which guitar you have when tuning a 5 string or 6 string model because they can have an extra string added on the bottom or top of the instrument. This could be a low B0 or a high C3.
Ways to tune a guitar without a tuner
#1 Tune with a reference note
A guitar is tuned by measuring and adjusting the pitch of the strings against reference note, usually starting with the bottom E. You can get this reference point off a piano, electric tuner or even a guitar tuning iPhone app on your phone.
#2 Use a tuning fork
People traditionally used tuning forks to tune instruments before electronic tuners. These are small pieces of metal that will resonate at a specific frequency when struck. Using tuning forks to tune can be fine in quiet environments but are impractical on stage.
Most professional musicians now use a tuning pedal. This not only mutes your instrument when you play it but also provides a visual interface to tune your strings.
#3 Use another tuned instrument
You could use other tuned instruments as your reference to tune your guitar. Many people use the notes on a piano. You could even use an online piano as a reference. This can help you develop a good ear for pitch but there is going to be a higher chance of inaccurate tuning.
How to tune a guitar for beginners
#4 Tune one string at a time
Once you have this first note, we can begin to tune the rest. A clever hack to know is that the note on the fifth fret of a string is the equivalent of the open string below it.
For example, when you play the fifth fret on the bottom E string, that will be your next reference point for the open fifth string or A note. This works for every string apart from the fourth (G3) and fifth (B3) strings, where you play the 4th fret on the G string to get a B.
#5 Re-tune your strings
After you tune each individual string, you need to make them stay pitch perfect. You can do this by gently stretching them away from the fretboard and re-tuning each time they go out of tune.
A safe way to stretch your strings is to place your middle finger on the 12th fret, hook your index finger under the string and lift up to the first crease on your middle finger. Keep tuning the string until it stops going out of tune. You should also look at the different kinds of guitar tuners available to find the easiest and fastest way to tune up.
#6 Use a guitar tuner
The most common way to tune a guitar is to use a guitar tuner. There are many different kinds but they all do the same thing: they tell help you tune your guitar by telling you the note you are playing and how close it is to standard pitch.
How to tune a guitar with a tuner
This is by far the easiest way to tune your guitar. It’s good to know about the different options there are out there for guitar tuners and how to use them. Here is some information on the different kinds of guitar tuners out there so that you can work out what will be best for you.
#7 Clip-on guitar tuner
These are a popular option amongst many guitarists because they are small, portable and clip right on to the head of your guitar. The price can vary depending on the brand and some can be very accurate. Although they are very useful, they are also very visible. However, there are more discrete options that can be just as effective.
#8 Guitar tuner pedal
If you don’t want a clip on tuner hanging on your guitar while you perform, a pedalboard tuner could be for you. These are bigger and can fit alongside your other pedals in your setup.
They usually need an external power supply and could be harder to see how in tune you are because they are on the floor, especially if it doesn’t have a clearly lit display. You may want to opt for a tuner that can be powered by batteries as well as from the mains in case you don’t have access to a plug socket.
#9 Tune with a guitar tuner app
You can download guitar tuners on your phone or tablet and use the internal microphone to tune your guitar. App-based tuners are practical because it is likely that you will always have your phone on you.
However, you are relying on the quality of your phone microphone, which may not be able to pick up your guitar in louder environments and are usually less accurate than other tuners.
The best guitar tuning apps
Check out Fender Tune for iPhone and see a great list of options for Android users here:
- BOSS Tuner
- Chromatic Guitar Tuner
- Cifra Club Tuner
- Fender Guitar Tuner
Have a look at some more apps for musicians here.
#10 Tune with harmonics
When you don’t hold down the string but gently place your finger over specific frets, you divide the string and play a harmonic, multiplying the frequency of the string. On the 5th fret, this is a multiple of four and on the 7th this is a multiple of three.
Tuning with harmonics is a common method many guitarists use to tune their guitar. Say you have tuned your first E2 string perfectly and wanted to use harmonics to tune the A2 string. You would play the 5th fret harmonic on the E2 then the 7th fret harmonic on the A2 and adjust it so it is in tune.
However, some argue that this is a flawed method that leaves your guitar out of tune and there is evidence to back it up. Let’s look back at the frequencies of these two strings, with and without harmonics.
E2 – 82.41 Hz E2 5th fret harmonic – 329.64 Hz
A2 – 110 Hz A2 7th fret harmonic – 330 Hz
There is only a marginal difference between the harmonic frequencies but if you were to tune like this across other strings then it could be noticeable. This is because you are going to try and match the harmonic at 329.64 Hz and if you do, then the A2 string will end up being slightly flat at 109.88 Hz.
Can you achieve standard guitar tuning with harmonics?
This knocks on to all the other strings so here is what the frequency of your strings will look like if you tune with harmonics.
Standard Tuning Harmonic Tuning
E2 – 82.41 Hz E2 – 82.41 Hz
A2 – 110 Hz A2 – 109.88 Hz
D3 – 146.8 Hz D3 – 146.51 Hz
G3 – 196 Hz G3 – 195.34 Hz
As you can see, the strings become more out of tune as you go along. You can’t use this harmonic between the G3 and B3 strings but if you use the G3 string as a reference then the final two strings will also be flat.
It is worth bearing this in mind because although you might find harmonic tuning fine for casual practice, your guitar is likely to go out of tune much quicker and you will only have one properly tuned string in the first place.
What factors affect guitar tuning?
There are many factors that can affect tuning, some common culprits are listed below.
- Tuning Stability – Higher quality guitars are built with high attention to detail and hold their tuning better.
- Humidity – Changes in air moisture can flex the neck of the guitar, affecting tuning, remember to set up your guitar if it travels a long distance.
- Strings – Old strings detune easily and don’t intonate as well, new strings need stretching to hold their tuning properly.
- Tuning ‘Pegs’, ‘Keys’ or ‘Machine Heads’ – Low-quality tuning pegs will allow strings to slip slightly, affecting your tuning.
- Bridge Type – Floating bridges such as a Floyd rose need specific care, tuning one string will cause the others to detune.
Why is the guitar tuned to EADGBE?
Other stringed instruments such as the Violin are tuned in 5ths, so you might ask why the guitar is tuned in 4ths?
Tuning the guitar this way makes it easy to play chords across no more than 4 frets and gives us easy access to the 3rd and 7th intervals which add the most meaning to a chord. Happy, sad, dissonant or harmonic.
All strings are a perfect 4th above the lower string, except the B. This is a major 3rd above the G string so that the final E string can be a perfect 4th above the B.
If you’re not familiar with music theory, all the variations in chords that you are familiar with use 3rd and 7th intervals of the scale. For example, shifting the major 3rd down a half step gives you a minor chord instead of a major chord.
A final reason is due to the scale length of the guitar. We could comfortably reach our notes in 5ths on a violin. However, guitar necks are far too big for the average hand to reach across that kind of distance.
The double bass and electric bass guitar are also tuned in 4ths due to their long scale length. It’s all about the size of the human hand and what makes it easier to play.
Acoustic guitar tuner & classical guitar tuners
The best tuners for acoustic and classical guitars are usually clip-on tuners. You clip them to the headstock of the guitar and the resonance of the string through the headstock is measured by the tuner.
Some acoustic guitars have pickups in them so that they can be plugged in, this can lead to a small box built into the body of the guitar that can contain its own tuner. This box takes the signal and sends it to a speaker or amplifier to project the sound of the acoustic guitar and can also have an equalizer to shape the tone.
Tuning an acoustic guitar for an open mic
Many performers choose to sing at open mics with an acoustic guitar so you should consider what option would be best for acoustic guitars. You will want to be quick and efficient at an open mic night so a clip-on tuner will probably be the best option for you.
Electric acoustic guitars are popular at open mic nights because they can be plugged into a pedal, which is reliable and doesn’t pick up other noise. They can also come with their own inbuilt guitar tuners. Additionally, you won’t need to have your acoustic guitar set next to a microphone and therefore don’t need to worry about feedback and positioning.
You should tune 5-10 minutes before you perform but be mindful of other performers because it’s it can be considered rude to tune when others are playing.
What is a polyphonic guitar tuner?
These tuners allow you to tune all of your strings at once instead of one at a time. All you have to do is strum your guitar and it will tell you the tuning of each individual string. These tuners are also very accurate but expect them to be more expensive than other tuners on the market.
Chromatic and non-chromatic guitar tuners
A chromatic tuner is the most common type of tuner. This will tell you the note you are playing and how far away you are from your desired pitch. Examples of these include most clip-on, pedal and polyphonic tuners.
Non-chromatic tuners are still effective but they don’t measure all notes, only the ones related to the standard guitar tuning pitches. These tend to be cheaper, often coming with starter guitar bundles, and are fine for standard tuning but aren’t as flexible as chromatic tuners. You can also use a chromatic tuner to tune all kinds of other stringed instruments such as a bass guitar!
Guitar tuning intonation
If you have problems with your guitar’s intonation then this will have a direct effect on its tuning. This is when your guitar is in tune with the open strings played but is out of tune when you hold the frets down. This can mean that your tuner says your guitar is perfectly in tune but when you play to hold a chord down, it sounds awful.
The way you can check if your intonation is out is to start with tuning one of your guitar strings. Then you need to check the tuning of the 12th fret of that string. If the tuning of that note is off then you need to adjust the intonation.
This can be done by adjusting the string length on the bridge or saddle. If the string is tuned but the 12th fret is flat, then this means that the string is too long and you need to bring the saddle on that string forward toward the neck. If it is sharp then you need to move it back.
This can be a really long process and some guitarists like to go to a guitar store so they can get it done professionally. If you want to do it yourself then try to learn a bit more about it first and set aside a few hours so you can get it done carefully and properly. Just make sure you get into a habit of checking the tuning of the frets as well as the open strings if you’re performing or recording.
Standard guitar tuning – does it take a long time?
Sometimes it takes beginners up to five minutes at a time to tune their guitar and cheaper models with older strings go out of tune a bit quicker than their more expensive friends but keep persevering.
Bear in mind that tuning your guitar could be incredibly difficult if the intonation is out or if you’re doing it with harmonics.
With practice, it is possible to tune a guitar just by using your ears which is a very worthy skill to own in the music world but even professionals still use guitar techs and tuners on stage.
Standard guitar tuning: why and how often should your guitar be tuned?
Have you ever been playing your guitar for a long and you can’t help but think the guitar doesn’t sound quite right? It’s quite possibly because the strings have changed pitch through all the hitting and bending so you need to regularly tune your guitar.
You should tune your guitar every time you pick it up to play and check it whilst you are practising, especially before a show. Reasons that your guitar’s tuning could go out of tune include;
- Temperature change (coming in from the cold to the warm too fast)
- Knocking it against something or someone
- Using old strings
What are Drop Tunings?
If you play any heavier styles such as rock or progressive pieces, you will find a lot of drop tunings. Drop tunings mean you ‘drop’ the lowest E string of the guitar down a whole step.
Therefore Drop D would take the bottom E of standard guitar tuning to D, winding down through two semitones or one whole step. This would give us the drop D tuning, DADGBE.
This pattern can then be copied for every single drop tuning. Drop C, Drop B and even Drop A. You just take DADGBE and drop every string down to the desired pitch. Double dropped D is where you drop the bottom and top E strings to D.
Check out the common drop tunings below:
Drop D: D – A – D – G – B – E
Double Dropped D: D – A – D – G – B – D
Drop C: C – G – C – F – A – D
Drop B: B – F# – B – E – G# – C#
How do I tune my guitar a Half Step Down?
Simply tune each string one semitone down, Eb – Ab – Db – Gb – Bb – Eb it’s like a reverse capo. Since a capo frets all the strings down at a certain point, imagine you’re doing the same by just tuning each string a half step down.
Standard: E – A – D – G – B – E
Half Step Down: Eb – Ab – Db – Gb – Bb – Eb
But why should you tune your guitar a half step down? The most common reason is to match a singer’s vocal range. For example, if their voice isn’t quite as high pitched as the song, you could play a semitone down to make the singer’s life easier. This is so they don’t have to stretch or damage their voice. You can’t just change your vocal cords so look after your singing voice by tuning your guitar to match.
Some singers will drop down to C or even Bb. Chester Bennington sang most of Linkin Park’s songs in Drop Db, which is a mix of Drop D and this technique. Some keys just fit a vocalist better so if you can’t reach a note, you’re not a bad singer!
What are open tunings?
Open tunings are beautiful guitar tunings that are tuned to a chord such as Open C or Open D. They lend themselves to slide players because the open string sounds create a nice pretty chord to run a slide along in parallel. No matter where you put the slide, the guitar will always sound like a chord.
Here are some common open guitar tunings:
Open G: D – G – D – G – B – D
Open D: D – A – D – F# – A – D
Modal D / Dsus4: D – A – D – G – A – D (try this one out it has a stunning suspended sound)
7 String Standard Tuning
7 string guitars add an extra string in the bass register and are often played in progressive rock and metal music. Standard 7 string tuning adds a low ‘A’ in the bass.
A1 – E2 – A2 – D3 – G3 – B4 – E4
Many 7 string artists drop this A down to a B and treat the guitar like a drop D tuning with an extra meatiness to the bass. The bass guitars also tend to be dropped down to match the guitars. The bass note is often used as a pedal tone to enhance the rhythm section of the song, rhythms played on 7 string guitars are often complex and percussive.
8 String Standard Tuning
8 string guitars add two extra strings in the bass register and are also played in progressive rock and metal. You know, for when 7 strings just aren’t low enough for you.
8 string standard tuning assumes that you’re playing rock or metal by dropping the A from the 7 string down to a B and adding that extra meaty 8th string as a low F#.
F# – B – E – A – D – G – B – E
This tuning is very low and specialist pickups are used in electric guitars. It can take some practice to make them sound good in a mix. These extended range guitars aren’t harmonized like a 12 string guitar. Those notes are simply there to be deep and bassy.
Standard guitar tuning- more tips
- Find yourself a quiet spot to start your guitar tuning. It’s easier away from background noise and improves accuracy.
- Go slowly when guitar tuning, if you tighten a string too much and too fast, it will break!
- Buy yourself some high-quality strings that suit your style of playing. Older strings are also more likely to go out of tune quickly so keep them fresh!
- Try different string weights, thicker strings last longer and are naturally more resonant than thinner strings.
- If you have a lower end guitar that struggles to hold tuning after bending or using the whammy bar, scribble some graphite into the guitar ‘nut’ (the grooves near the headstock) to lubricate the string contact point. This helps with tuning stability.
Let us know what kind of tuner you like to use and any tips you have for keeping your guitar in tune!